Film Review: ‘Minions’

Banana? Banana. If you’ve seen the trailer for Minions, you probably enjoyed it.

It’s unique, silly in an innocent sort of way, and in possession of enough visual inventiveness to keep the eye curious. If you’ve seen it as many times as I have – before what feels like every major studio film of the past year – you’re probably quite sick of it, but not enough to harbor ill-will toward the film itself. It is, at the end of the day, just too cute for that.

One of the assets of large budget animated features is that they are typically easy to digest more than once. What they (sometimes) lack in interesting concepts or narratives, they often make up for in striking visual direction and an abundance of things to keep your senses busy. They are built for the natural ADD in children, essentially, and if you have to take your child to How to Train your Dragon four times, at least it won’t stop being pretty.

The biggest problem with Minions then, for adults, is going to be the moment their son or daughter tells them they want to go see it again. It’s not that the film isn’t good looking, but that the humor throughout ends up exhausting and overpowering the visual excitement, and that it’s a humor which is most aptly described as rather mundane. When the film is making jokes for the kids – basically most of the time there aren’t any human characters on screen – it works solidly enough; the jokes are energetic and fun, sometimes stupid, but never offensive or gross. Too often, though, there are bits clearly aimed at the parents in the audience: scenes of brief but overt sexualization, one of surprising implied violence, and far too many that simply make references young viewers won’t get, such as the repeated jokes about stereotypical Britishness, ironic political billboards from the 60’s, or a 3-second glimpse of the moon landing being faked.

These inside jokes for the adults in the theater are something Pixar has mastered in their films at this point, and throughout the oeuvre of that studio are jokes containing a layered humor which manage to appeal to kids and adults simultaneously. They may be laughing for different reasons, but everyone can laugh together – the reason Pixar is considered the masters of the “family” film.

In contrast, the “adult” jokes in ‘Minions’ are entirely separate from the “kid” jokes: when it’s time for Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) to make a sexual quip the kids won’t get, their movie has to be paused for a moment. But only in content is this the case; in tone, the humor maintains a child-like lack of subtlety. Subtlety is where the adult humor in children’s movies is supposed to come from, though, and the result is that the “adult” moments here feel less like inclusion and more like pandering, and oftentimes spoil the innocent, silly fun of the rest of the film. By the third act, I felt myself wanting to laugh, but just not quite being able to do so.

The film only really functions on one level, and that’s the one seen in the trailer. The storytelling is a messy blend of voice-over narration and allowing the minions real words here and there (often in Spanish, because, hey, it’s sillier than English) just so that you can more easily grasp what’s going on. The pacing is a bit wonky, and the plot is almost contrived enough to be admirably ridiculous. But the minions are funny, they’re silly, they’re innocent, and watching them is entertaining enough. (The one speaking role that seems to find as much enjoyment and fun, as the minions do, is Jon Hamm, as Overkill’s husband). The humor is safe without being boring and reminded me at times of an old-fashioned cartoon, minus the nostalgia. Your kids will enjoy it.

Just hope they don’t enjoy it too much – an hour and a half of “BANANA!” can be fun; three hours would be far too much.

Minions is now playing.

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